The U.S. Senate Democratic primary between Senator Arlen Specter and Representative Joe Sestak (PA-7) has been a fascinating one to watch. Sestak, battling the entire establishment and running a scrappy insurgent campaign, was all but written off before a week or two ago. Apparently, though, he was holding his fire until the closing weeks of the campaign, when he could unload all his money, run TV ads and surge in the polls. And it has mostly worked, with Sestak turning a double-digit deficit into a slim lead in polling.
I wrote extensively last year about the downsides of Specter surviving his primary challenge – see “Comments on Specter’s Switch” Part I, Part II, and Part III. Part III, in particular, is where I dish into how Specter makes for a terrible Democrat, and a terrible public servant for that matter.
But at that time I wasn’t quite ready to endorse Sestak, as I explained:
I feel like I need to pound on this point again: Any Democrat will be better than Specter. The question liberals and progressives like myself need to ask is: Irrespective of how much better he is than Specter, will Sestak (or Torsella, or whatever) be someone WE will be happy with for the next several decades? If the answer is no, then it’d be better to let Specter win and elect a real liberal champion sometime soon down the road.
In other words, if Specter were to be reelected, he’d probably be out of office by 2017 (due to his age and past illnesses), at which point we could elect a real liberal to an open seat. On the other hand, if Sestak were to be elected, due to how hard successful primary challenges are, he’d have a lock on renomination for that seat for potentially decades, barring a real liberal from filling that seat unless he dies, retires early or is defeated by a Republican.
While I maintain that reservation, what has turned me around towards favoring Sestak was the realization that there aren’t many strong liberals in Pennsylvania, and that Sestak is probably the best we’re ever gonna get for awhile anyway, even if the seat were to open up in 2016. Sestak is sufficiently and consistently liberal in all areas, and would make a much more reliable and satisfactory Democratic Senator than Specter would. If Specter won renomination he would go right back to being center-right, as this brilliant graph from Nate Silver shows (the Quinnipiac poll is the one that showed Specter losing badly to conservative Republican Pat Toomey):
This isn’t something we’ll see out of Sestak. Moreover, a Sestak victory would be a huge blow from the left to the Democratic establishment and President Obama, who almost always back weak and calculating centrists over principled liberals. All else being equal I’d love any opportunity to give the Democratic establishment and President Obama a swift kick in the teeth. For the reasons of the optics of a Sestak victory being a victory for the left and a defeat to the centrist Democratic establishment, and for the reason that Sestak is ideologically a “mainstream liberal” Democrat and would act, speak and vote accordingly and consistently, I endorse Joe Sestak for the United States Senate.
Rep. Joe Sestak. Source: Blackliberal WordPress blog
Earlier I was saying there weren’t many strong liberals in Pennsylvania. One of the few strong liberals I know of is Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel. He ran against Arlen Specter for Senate in 2004 and lost, and is now running in the Democratic primary for Governor. Hoeffel is the real deal – strong liberal, single-payer supporter, advocate of the people, everything – and I’m proud to endorse Joe Hoeffel for Governor of Pennsylvania.
Commissioner Joe Hoeffel. Source: Progressive Majority
Sestak, as I wrote earlier, is currently holding slim leads over Specter in the polling. Hoeffel is doing pretty poorly – he went from being a distant second behind frontrunner Dan Onorato to being a distant fourth. I really hope both are able to pull out wins.
JUNE 5 2010 UPDATE: As Nute Gunray put it The Phantom Menace, “Ah, veek-tore-ree!”
As was mostly expected, Joe Sestak beat Arlen Specter, 53.9-46.1. So Specter has the unfortunate distinction as the only Senator (that I know of) who switched parties to avoid defeat in his former party’s primary, only to be defeated in the other party’s primary. Let’s all say it together now: “My change in party will enable me to be re-e-lec-ted!”
Unfortunately, Joe Hoeffel didn’t do so well, placing last with 12.7% of the vote. Dan Onorato won handily, getting 45.1% in a four-way race, and will be the Democratic nominee for the PA gubernatorial election.